Food & Drink

There's Never Been a Better Time to Explore NYC's Delivery-Only Restaurants

There should be a term for the very NYC experience of ordering from a restaurant all the time that you never actually see the inside of. You know, that spot that serves your favorite chicken tikka masala or vegan chili mac, but you couldn’t for the life of you name one detail inside the restaurant itself (beyond the type of takeout container they use)?

While some spots (hi, Midtown East) are designed mostly for takeout business, a perfunctory dining room still exists for the restaurant to feel, well, restaurant-like. Others, however, have cracked the code on high rent, delivery domination and maximum efficiency by opening so-called commissary-style ghost kitchens, that is, restaurants without any type of storefront. Think of your neighborhood Chinese takeout spot, without the requisite two tables in front.

Very much a product of the optimize-everything era, ghost kitchens are likely to become even more common in New York, as popular restaurants opt for satellite spots to prepare takeout orders (startups like Zuul now house restaurants’ satellite delivery kitchens, and more eateries launch without any plans of ever interfacing with customers beyond the delivery bag.

Now that delivery/take-out is the only option for New Yorkers reliant on others’ preparing their food, we’ve rounded up some of the top delivery-only restaurants in NYC that you can order from now.

Wing Squad

Without any sports bar patrons to hold up kitchen orders, Wing Squad can focus on cooking up crispy chicken wings to deliver in multiples of six. The menu is simple: Choose one of six flavors for your wings (honey garlic and Buffalo are highly recommended), a few sides (mac and cheese is gooey and delightful, requisite celery and carrots are a nice add-on too) and a dessert if you so choose, and get ready to a feast of finger foods to be delivered straight to your door. Chicken is all antibiotic-free, and colorful, trendy packaging offers a couch-friendly Instagram opportunity. Available daily from 11am to 11pm via Seamless.

Costata

The beloved Altamarea Group pasta restaurant and steakhouse is long gone from its corner on Spring Street, but some of the menu highlights live on via virtual kitchen. Delivering for dinner only, this fine-dining spot offers excellent handmade pastas, like a fusilli with pork shoulder ragu, plus the signature costata, a 40-ounce, 40-day dry-aged tomahawk ribeye steak, served with bordelaise, creamy horseradish sauce, and truffle butter. At $145, it’s worth breaking out your real silverware and plates for. If you have those. Delivered in Manhattan exclusively via Caviar, from 5pm to 10pm daily.

Zoku Sushi

Daily deliveries of sustainable sushi sourced from Japan, Argentina, Faroe Islands and even Long Island ensure that this delivery-only sushi is as fresh as can be. The ghost kitchen format ensures that minimal waste is created, because smaller quantities of ingredients are purchased than a traditional restaurant with a broader menu, and packaged and served until they sell out. Thanks to lower operating costs, Zoku (which is on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village) can also sell premium sushi at lower prices, which are based on the market, and typically start at $5 for two pieces of nigiri. Sushi boxes are the real deal here, with a three-roll combo starting at $16. An entirely vegetarian menu, starring pieces like enoki mushroom nigiri, is also available. Order via ZokuSushi.com (prices are slightly lower), or Seamless/GrubHub for Manhattan delivery. 

Ghost Burger

There are some people who refuse to eat anything if they don’t know where it came from, while others are intrigued by foods of mysterious origins. This burger delivery service is for the latter, as they keep the kitchen location of their business top secret, though with delivery running from the Upper East Side to down to the Lower East Side, we suspect the hangover-friendly menu is made somewhere near the East River. The menu includes three patty options -- a chuck rib patty, Nashville-style fried chicken or Beyond Burger -- with specialty accoutrements like kewpie mayo, chili jam and homemade special sauce, served on Balthazar buns or keto-friendly lettuce wraps. Sides include a salad, fries and Buffalo style wings, and service is available from 10am - 10pm/

Sam’s Crispy Chicken

New virtual-only restaurant Sam’s Crispy Chicken is run by Sam Nazarian, Founder and CEO of sbe group, which also runs Umami Burger. Inspired by the popularity of Umami’s fried chicken, this ghost kitchen uses antibiotic-free fried chicken in sandwiches, salads and as ready-to-dip tenders. Veg-friendly Quorn and cauliflower options are also available, plus waffle fries and sides like mac & cheese. The entire menu is a stoner’s dream, with direct-to-door options like maple-soaked fried chicken sandwiched between waffles (Buffalo sauce optional), Nashville hot fried chicken with pickles on a brioche bun and a fried chicken Caesar sandwich (yes, sandwich!) with wasabi peas and tempura flakes. Sam’s Crispy Chicken is available for delivery daily from 11am - 11pm through Postmates, UberEats, Doordash, GrubHub, Seamless, and Caviar. 

Mac N Cheese Alley

It’s not as sketchy, but just as gooey as it sounds, this sibling to East Williamsburg’s Grilled Cheese Alley only exists on Seamless dot com (and in your mouth). In many ways, it’s a dream of a delivery restaurant, doling out comfort food like Philly cheesesteak mac and a mac & cheese topped with bacon-wrapped figs. Build-your-own tots are also an option, with over a dozen accoutrements including ranch, pesto, pork belly, truffle oil, roasted jalapenos, apple slices and pretty much everything else your little hungry/hungover/stoned heart desires. Delivery runs from 5pm to midnight in North Brooklyn. 

Cookie Dealer

If any ghost kitchen better represents the New York hustle, we’d like to learn about it. This overly secretive cookie delivery service panders to sweet tooths by offering Supreme-style drops from freshly baked “secret stashes” of half-pound cookies in ridiculous flavors, like S’mores chocolate chip. The cookie dealer kitchen is not open to the public (though bakery scenes are shown on the brand’s Instagram) and delivery is not consistent, which is part of what makes it special.

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Melissa Kravitz is a Thrillist contributor.